By Howard Koplowitz
The driver, whose identity was not immediately released, was trying to get on the northbound Van Wyck at around 12:17 p.m. when the tanker overturned and burst into flame on the service ramp, police said.
Traffic came to a halt on both sides of the Van Wyck Expressway and at North Conduit Boulevard as the Fire Department flooded the street with foam to put out the explosion.
“I thought it was a house fire. I dialed 911,” said Gregory Robinson, who was walking along the Van Wyck overpass at 135th Avenue when he saw the explosion. “It was like a mushroom. Everybody started laying out on the ground. The whole road was on fire. You couldn't tell what it was.”
A gas smell permeated throughout the surrounding neighborhood as a crowd gathered by the overpass to watch firefighters put out the blaze.
The tanker was burnt and windows on the bottom floors of a nearby hotel were blown out from the explosion.
Another witness said the driver of the tanker went too fast around a turn to get onto the Van Wyck.
“If you're not familiar with that turn, you could be in trouble. It's a right-angle curve,” said the witness, who only wanted to be identified as John.
He said the explosion “was a shock wave. I felt like somebody shook me.”
It took about 90 minutes for traffic to move on the Van Wyck following the explosion and nearly two hours before an AirTrain rumbled above the highway.
The entrance ramp was still closed as of 4 p.m as crews inspected the road for structural damage.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.